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Blade Runner 2049: The Enigma and Exegesis of ‘K’

Zwei Selle wohnen ach! In meiner Brust. (Two cells live in my chest.) … I must go on being a Christian, acting out the role of a genuine revolutionary apostolic Christian, as a strategy: in order to overthrow the Black Iron Prison which I detest.
—Philip K. Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem (eds). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011.

Blade Runner 2049 is a more literary film than its predecessor. This is not to make the claim that it is necessarily a superior film to Ridley Scott’s 1982 original, but it is to state that Scott’s Blade Runner is less concerned with Philip K. Dick as a writer and countercultural amanuensis than Denis Villeneuve’s sequel. There are a number of reasons for this, not least because Ridley Scott had not read Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), but another factor was the marginalization of screenwriter Hampton Fancher, who returned for Villeneuve’s sequel. In Villeneuve’s film, it is apparent that Fancher (with Michael Green) had a stronger voice, one intimate with the Philip K. Dick oeuvre, and with Dick’s biography. Blade Runner 2049 delights in the neuroses, paradoxes, divinations, ironies, and the profound, visionary meta- and pataphysical experiences of Dick as a ‘garage philosopher’ and obsessive analyst. I approach the Blade Runner 2049 as a garage analyst, as a writer, and as a reader. What follows assumes familiarity with the film. I’m going to make some assertions about the genius of Hampton Fancher’s writing, and what it manifests. Does Fancher need to have been conscious of the plexus of allusion and encryption that I describe here? Absolutely not. I believe Fancher to have written a consciously literary and engrammatic text, but it would sit at least as well within PKD’s Weltanschauung, or schizo-analysis of silly putty worlds, entropy, etc., if Fancher had written an unconscious intervention, a divine invasion. It simply does not matter. I deal with what is apparent to me as, like Dick was, a pattern-seeking animal.

Consider the insertion of Philip K. Dick into Blade Runner 2049 as a metafiction, something Dick did consciously and unconsciously in his fictions. Dick’s middle name was Kindred, and ‘K’ the replicant played by Ryan Gosling is K/kindred with Dick. K’s serial number is KD6-3.7 This is precisely the kind of numerological gift that Dick would have enjoyed, and perseverated over: it leads in one direction, before the flip/flop undermines the first solution. The combination of 6 and 3, interlinked by the hyphen, gives us 9 or alphabetically ‘I.’ The 3, isolated, gives us ‘C.’ It appears as if K’s serial number will encrypt Dick’s name directly: KDIC – but then it breaks off, or loops back, anagrammatically, leaving the final digit 7 unresolved. The numeral 7 has a rich and paradoxical history in the occult, theology, literature, and pataphysics. It’s also the square root of 49, and so forth. Yet, one must double back, approach the numerology differently: K (11), D (4), and 9 are 24. Then, 3 and 7. Work the numerological equation this way: 2+4+3+7 = 16, or ‘P’. The initials PKD are encrypted in K’s serial number.

Or, regard it another way: allow 3 + 7 to simply equal 10. 10 is ‘J.’ Therefore, the K serial number that identifies with Dick simultaneously identifies ‘J.’ Philip K. Dick’s twin sister died six weeks after birth. Her name was Jane. Dick was haunted by Jane. Twinning, and doubling are uncanny devices in Blade Runner 2049. But J is also Joi: a classic projection/introjection of Dick’s “dark-haired girl,” K’s daemon, his anima, his pre-occupation by spirit. Later, as pure emanation, Joi will occupy the persona of the doxie Mariette to experience sex with K. Then, J is Joe: the name given K by Joi when they mistakenly deduce K’s humanity. Joe K is also a ‘joke’ in that the name invokes Josef K of Kafka’s The Trial (pub. 1925), and Dick’s father, Joseph. Further, J is Joshi. Lieutenant Joshi, also referred to as Madam, is a surrogate maternal figure, who suggests the incest taboo in the family romance of the film. J is the lost and introjected sister Jane, and also Jesus, who in Dick’s complex of digressive Gnosticism is female. If this sounds like monomania on my part, then I refer you to The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (2011), the philosophy of the author subsequent to his religious/mystical experience of February and March 1974. Dick’s Exegesis, edited by Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem, with exceptional annotations and interventions from an array of acquaintances, academics, and authors, is a (self-)conscious presence in Blade Runner 2049. And this is the fidelity the sequel insists upon, the autodidactic philosophy which the original abjected as too weird. It is the core of the film.

The Exegesis of Philip K Dick

The story is quite well-known, but The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick as a spiritual/psychic phenomenon in Dick’s life, and as a vast collection of manuscript pages, begins with his vision/encounter with a golden fish sign familiar to Christians. This he sees on the necklace of a dark-haired girl who arrived at Dick’s home to deliver pharmaceuticals after a dental surgery. The fish sign is a symbol for radical Christianity, in the sense of secrecy in time of persecution, but it also represents a form of the symbol for the infinite, and for the double helix of genetics. Following his epiphany with the fish symbol necklace, Dick dreams repeatedly of large, sometimes gigantic books that he cannot yet read or decipher. This, he understands, is an emanation of the Logos, something he will rename as his cosmology evolves and digresses, as Christ, Ubik, VALIS, etc. The fish symbol appears explicitly in Blade Runner 2049. It is also, in gold, the cover image of the published Exegesis. The search for the engrammatic horse in K’s memory (more on this follows) takes him to the Morrill Cole orphanage, the “Black Iron Prison” of The Exegesis. Here, he believes he will confirm his humanity. K wants to view the records that will document his time at the orphanage. The table where K examines the book is decorated with the exegetic fish symbol, repeating along its edge. K cannot ‘read’ the book nor find himself in it, because the corresponding pages have been ripped out. The scene is straight out of Dick’s documented dreams.

K is haunted by the memory of a carved wooden horse. Its base is inscribed with the date 6-10-21, that he will mistake for his own birthdate. Why is K’s totem a horse? Subtly, it alludes to the enigma of Kaspar Hauser, the feral child without a childhood who wandered into Nuremberg, Germany in May 1828. Kaspar Hauser had been confined in a dark cell since infancy with nothing to occupy him, except for small wooden horses, toys that were presented to him by a man whose face he never saw, whose identity is not known. When K. Hauser was discovered, he could pronounce only a few words, but was able to speak to the effect of: “I want to be a rider/cavalryman, like my father,” and repeated the word “horse.” The replicant K, in his mistaken identification of Rick Deckard as his father, seems also to have aspired unconsciously to enter his imaginary father’s profession, as a blade runner.

The Exegesis is more explicit and direct about horses as symbols. Dick describes several night‘mares’ of horses. I’ll extract a few vital explications here. In 1975, Dick described “…the horse as a sign for death. The adversary, maybe? Fate? Destiny?” (p. 157). K, as metafictional PKD, struggles with the paradoxes of engrammatic programming, a suspicion that his world has been reverse-engineered, like a mystery novel, to present the illusion of narrative that follows from clues, when in fact it is authored in reverse through implanted memories/narrative engrams/symbols to impose an illusion of teleology. This is true in K’s case. Another of PKD’s horse leitmotifs is the “Orwellian Horse”, after Animal Farm (1945). In his exegesis of the events of 2-3-74, Dick supposes that in apprehending/seeing God, the visionary accomplishes the “breaking of the ‘Orwellian Horse’ script” (p. 302) — that the encounter with the transcendent/miraculous emancipates us from work-life-duty, a Marxist version of the enslaved ego/spirit in history. The replicant is, without transcendent experience, an Orwellian Horse, a slave to duty and its own meaningless death. The horse connects K to Deckard’s dream of the unicorn in the original Blade Runner film, an engram/sign. The horse, in Dick’s Exegesis is also one/the form of God, Ubik, VALIS, the Logos, etc., in the form of “Zebra.” Zebra is the horse in light and shadow, the divine/satanic, a vision of the present and the hidden. In his metafictional novel VALIS (1981), Philip K. Dick appears as Horselover Fat. The etymology of ‘Philip’ is the Greek for ‘lover of horses’. The metafictional conflation of K and PKD in Blade Runner 2049 is rich, elegant, and as multivalent as Dick’s own psyche. Again, it is a literary film, experimenting with Dick’s particular sense of time, entropy, and wit.

K’s ‘baseline’ — the measure of psychopathology in replicants — is informed by a litany from Nabokov’s Pale Fire (1962). Many critics have noted this, and it is not a ‘hidden’ aspect of the narrative (Joi actually picks up a copy of the book in K’s apartment). But, why Nabokov? There are two notable exegetic lines here. The first, which has gone without notice so far, relates to another Nabokov text: Lolita. Sue Lyon made her notorious film debut as Lolita in Stanley Kubrick’s film, in 1962. She married Hampton Fancher in December 1963. Lyon was 17, and Fancher was 25; the marriage lasted until 1965. K’s baseline test reintroduces the psychopathy of the replicant from Do Androids Dream… as opposed to the pathos and tragedy given to the replicants of Blade Runner, which arguably, sentimentalizes and undermines Dick’s conception of the androids. The baseline test is, of course, an update of the Voigt-Kampff test that I have analyzed elsewhere. When K passes his baseline test, his interrogator dubs him, “Constant K”, a double entendre: Constant K refers to chemical equilibrium. K’s baseline is derived from the heart attack/epiphany of John Shade in Nabokov’s Pale Fire, which Joi hates, not only because it victimizes K in an Orwellian mode, but also because prefigures loss, and its biological metaphor is antithetical to her binary existence as code. To situate it in Dick’s cosmology, it is worth quoting some lines that precede and follow what we hear in the film, from page 59:

Everything I loved was lost
But no aorta could report regret.
A sun of rubber was convulsed and set;
And blood-black nothingness began to spin
A system of cells interlinked within
Cells interlinked within cells interlinked
Within one stem. And, dreadfully distinct
Against the dark, a tall white fountain played.

I realized, of course, that it was made
Not of our atoms; that the sense behind
The scene was not our sense. In life, the mind
Of any man is quick to recognize
Natural shams…
…And presently I saw it melt away:
Though still unconscious, I was back on earth.

When K later fails his baseline test, Joshi watches an image on her monitor of two cells, enlarged as planets, with a white plasmic connection stretching between them. This selection must meet The Exegesis, and it does so in several passages where Dick perceives humanity as a colony, specifically a colony of bees, the “Swarm of Bees” brain… This is why Deckard keeps bees, in retreat and hiding in Las Vegas. To select a few from many, it should be understood with:

I think we’re (each of us is) a colony, like a colony of bees. A collection of loosely interrelated entities, which light up in patterns; game board style. Also, each of us is isomorphic. We’re inside a great colony of bees, any number and combination of which can light up at any one time. Like cells — in a battery. Any output (both each of us; and It). Clusters: each cell with a slightly different idea of what it’d be like; hence the otherwise inexplicable diversity and variety. (p. 154)

Fuck! Swarm of Bees, but not us. Thus it links the stations (cells) within us. We human beings are just big dumb vehicles through which the plasma acts, and in which it lives. (p. 364)

…and crucially for K, who is not stung by the bees, but who is wounded by glass shrapnel:

My dream about the crystal (stinging and dangerous killer) bees killed by the white-falling layer of snow […] The miracle promised has, in linear time, at last come. (p. 670)

Blade Runner 2049 employs symbolic and personifying names beyond K and Joi: Sapper Morton, for example; Sapper is a military term for a soldier who works with the earth/soil/terrain, frequently digging in sabotages or defenses. Sapper’s work is to conceal the ossuary containing Rachael’s bones. The ossuary is concealed beneath a tree, a grave tree within which there had once been sap. When the Nexus 9 replicant Luv shows the “memory bearing” — the crystal ball of Rachael Tyrell’s memories — to K, an image of the tree, a Rorschach scene of crucifixion, is contained in the glass. Dick refers frequently to the ‘arboreal’ structure of his exegetic thought.

The character of Niander Wallace has an exegetic relationship to the 19th century German theologian Johann Neander. In Greek, Neander means ‘new man’, the Germanic ‘Neumann’. Johann Neander converted from Judaism to Protestantism, studied Plato, and wrote a treatise on Gnosticism, spiritual disruptions that Dick would have appreciated, oscillating as he did between all of these. According to Dick’s beloved Encyclopedia Britannica, Johann Neander was near-blind from the demands of his work. The quasi-religious figure of Niander in Blade Runner 2049 is, of course, blind. Richard Doyle notes another Neander/Neumann in a footnote of The Exegesis:

John von Neumann’s 1947 discussion of ‘self-reproducing automata’, a concept that would later help manifest Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (p. 592)

In Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Rachel (the Hebrew spelling) is a crypto-Jewish figure. Her last name is Rosen. This is recapitulated in Blade Runner 2049 when Niander Wallace invokes her Old Testament persona, quoting from Genesis 30:22

And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb.

But Niander avoids the lines that follow through verses 23 and 24:

And she conceived, and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my reproach: And she called his name Joseph…

Thus, K/Joe’s sense of himself as the son of Rach(a)el is part of the Logos as myth. The Hebrew name Rachel means ‘ewe’ — the origami figure Gaff folds for K after he has entered the logos of the past and future family. In Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, memories are staked against entropy and mutability, time and decay. Self-reproducing automata are the obsession of Niander Wallace, and the central ‘miracle’ of Blade Runner 2049, the child born to Rick Deckard and Rachael Tyrell, the Nexus 7 replicant who dies when Sapper Morton performs an emergency caesarean section. Wallace and the replicant Luv both kill women with the same knife cut, a displaced caesarean wound. In 2049, K is a Nexus 9 replicant. Niander Wallace’s Nexus 9 replicants have colonized 9 planets. The cover story for the lost daughter of Deckard and Rachael Tyrell —the one which K believes, thinking himself the surviving son— is that she died from a genetic disorder: Galatian Syndrome (see also, J.F. Sebastian’s biblical ‘Methuselah Syndrome’ in Blade Runner). The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians is the 9th book of the New Testament. Dick was preoccupied with Pauline scripture … Saul/Paul whose Damascene conversion depends upon a miracle of blindness … Galatians refers to a cryptic, divergent Christian community, and PKD’s exegetic writing is riddled with obsessive, sometimes paradoxical writing about obscure/renegade early Christian sects. In 2049, this is how the surviving replicant underground, of early Nexus types, is presented. 9 is also ‘I’ and it is in discovery of the ‘I’ that K finds his paradoxical humanity. Niander’s corporate leitmotif is from Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. Through classicism, ballet, and ‘Soviet happy’ technology, Blade Runner 2049 reinstates the presence of the Soviet from Do Androids Dream… absent from Blade Runner. K is to Peter’s narrative (displaced versions of the bird, the tree, the garden wall) as the older Nexus models are to an ironic edition of Nature.

Luv is Wallace’s best angel: cold, ruthless, emotionally adolescent. She exemplifies Dick’s conception of the android as psychopath, as well as the danger implicit in all the dark-haired girls of his mythology. Luv is also explicit about the nature of psychoanalytic transference and countertransference, the ambivalent seduction during Voigt-Kampff, and she presents the method as explicitly Freudian. Blade Runner opens with Dave Holden asking Leon Kowalski about his mother. Luv describes to K the sensation of being desired when asked intimate questions, when under analysis; this she uses to suggest a sexual relationship between the two. Lieutenant Joshi —she is counterpart to Joi, contained in her name — performs the same near-seduction of K. Joshi questions K about his false childhood, drawing out the horse memory, before suggesting that if she continues to drink, she will lose the incest taboo that alienates her from the/her boy K. Luv relates to Niander Wallace through the Jungian Electra complex, where K relates to Joshi through the Freudian Oedipus complex.

The Freudian nature of both Blade Runner 2049, The Exegesis and Dick’s experience inform the narrative further. When Joshi’s forensics team examine Rachael’s bones, Coco speculates on the fate of the lost child, suggesting of Sapper Morton, “Maybe he ate it.” At work here is Dick’s knowledge that this twin Jane died because, as Dick’s mother informed him, he was the greedier twin. Dick’s eating disorder has been documented elsewhere. But, in neurotic exegesis, Philip K. Dick did consume Jane, and this is essential to his introjection of the lost kindred twin, and her haunting of him.

K finds Deckard, his desired father, in Las Vegas. K’s engrammatic fantasy of himself as the child of Deckard and Rachael is described by Freud in “Family Romances” (1909). Freud describes the neurotic fantasy involving the discovery by the child that its parents are not its real parents, and that a superior family exists elsewhere. This is common to mythic literature of all genres, the archetypal narrative of the orphan discovering his ‘lost’ or ‘secret’ inheritance of family and exalted station, as in the conspiracy theories surrounding Kaspar Hauser. The posthuman love story between K and Joi is engrammed to end with Joi’s death. The engrams are versions of Frank Sinatra. First in K’s Los Angeles apartment where Joi plays Sinatra’s 1966 rendition of “Summer Wind” — originally the German “Der Sommerwind”, music and lyrics by Heinz Meier and Hans Bradtke, then recorded by crooner and horse breeder Wayne Newton in 1965. The song about “two sweethearts and the summer wind” evokes the ephemeral nature/emanation of the love affair between the artifices K and Joi. “I lost you to the summer wind…” In Las Vegas, the paradoxical site of memory/nostalgia (projected in Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, and Liberace), or Dick’s Platonic exegetic “anamnesis” (sudden recollection), and amnesia, a jukebox hologram of Sinatra sings to K, now Joe:

It’s quarter to three, there’s no one in the place except you and me, / So, set ’em up, Joe, I got a little story I think you should know / We’re drinkin’, my friend, to the end of a brief episode / Make it one for my baby and one more for the road.

In this paean to loneliness, the appearance of ‘baby’ here is both romantic and natal. The brief episode of Joe and Joi is about to end. Behind the bar is a painting of Saint Christopher. Philip K. Dick’s son was named Christopher. In myth, Saint Christopher bore Christ as a child upon his shoulders across a fast-flowing river. As you will know, like the fish symbol, the sign of Saint Christopher is ubiquitous in Christianity.

The real surviving child of Deckard and Rachael is their daughter, Ana Stelline (‘grace / star’). Ana Stelline, confined to a glass ‘prison’ to protect her compromised immune system, works for the Wallace Corporation manufacturing memories with uncanny authenticity. The horse memories that engram K are hers. After Joe kills Luv, and Deckard has ‘drowned’ — and been ‘born again’ in a sense that PKD would recognize — rescued by K from the fluid womb space of the crashed Wallace vehicle, Joe reunites Deckard with Ana Stelline. Even as Joe dies on the steps outside the Stelline building, Ana, his exegetic ‘twin,’ manipulates the fall of snow. The final engram of the film works upon/within the spectator, the audience: the musical theme that accompanied Roy Batty’s soliloquy and death returns, and unless the original Blade Runner has not been seen, it is impossible to witness K’s death without Batty’s soliloquy returning, silently…it is implanted in us, and we, in turn project it upon the last moments of the future.

James Reich is a novelist and critic, and the publishing editor at Stalking Horse Press. His latest novel is Soft Invasions (Anti-Oedipus Press, December 2017). As the former Chair of Creative Writing and Literature at Santa Fe University of Art and Design, he taught numerous classes on Philip K. Dick, science fiction, and critical theory.


4 thoughts on “Blade Runner 2049: The Enigma and Exegesis of ‘K’

  1. Very impressive unpacking of the symbolism. A thought I had regarding the horse/unicorn motif, as follows: A horse is the mundane equivalent of the extraordinary unicorn. Deckard dreams of the unicorn because he is special, or will go on to do/create something special. K is fixated upon the horse because, without knowing it yet, he is not special. Just another horse, not a unique-orn.

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